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Reinventing Repower America: Our Only Hope for Winning the Climate Change Battle in America

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Last night I was privileged to get to listen in on the special "What do we do now?' Town Hall phone call organized by Repower America, Al Gore's organization for promoting global climate change legislation in America.

If you go to the post-call discussion board, you will see that a number of people were disappointed in what happened during the call. And I have to count myself in that group for the following reason: The call was billed as "a Virtual Town Hall to discuss the way forward for the climate movement." But the "way forward" presented was essentially just "more of the same... only working harder".

I will give the former Vice President credit for honestly saying "The US government - not just the Senate but the US government - has failed us." But when it came to the question what do we do next, no one - including Al Gore - seemed capable of saying "Our strategy failed us too." Instead, Al Gore said "Leaders must act. We have to solve the crisis. We must stand up and reaffirm to our elected officials that they must lead. We must shift the balance of power. We need your ideas and input. We must redouble our efforts. We must take bold steps. We need inspiration still, because we cannot lose this fight."

And in answer to a question about "Climategate", he said talked about demanding that the media report the truth, writing letters and OpEds. He said that only when the media hears from enough of us will they change their habits and report the truth.

We've Lost. So, Let's Do What We've Done Again!

To me, this is all classic "fight the good fight and keep on fighting" language. And to be honest, I was expecting more from former Vice President Gore's organization for one main reason. Because - when he was Vice President - Al Gore was in charge of the Reinventing Government initiative in the Clinton Administration.

I was expecting more, because saying we will "do more of what hasn't worked" (which is essentially what was said last night) shows no evidence that any form of "reinventing thinking" exists in the top levels of Repower America. And without that type of strategic thinking, Repower America isn't going to get America to the climate friendly future it needs to reach.

As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, "We are getting better and better at doing the wrong things," which is exactly what Repower America is planning on doing. It thinks the solution to overcoming the failure America's climate movement just experienced is to do a better job of doing the things that didn't work the first time.

But I am not without hope. And that's because Repower America's leaders say this on their after-call discussion site...

We need to continue this crucial discussion. The Senate has abandoned comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation this year, and big oil, coal and fossil fuel lobbyists are ready to continue well-funded efforts to block action. How do you think we should move forward?

Add your ideas below. We will feature insightful comments on our website in the days ahead.
Topics to consider:

How should our grassroots-driven campaign continue the fight in the months and years ahead?

What audience or targets should we focus on? U.S. Congress, states and local city councils, major polluters, right wing media outlets, the fossil fuel lobby?

What do you think it will take to solve the climate crisis?

Now, even given this invitation to "add your ideas below", I know it won't be easy to perform an intervention in Repower America's strategic mindset. And that's because they have defined Repower America as a "grassroots-driven campaign", which is a very limiting definition.

But I am counting on the fact that this is essentially Al Gore's organization. And if enough people remind him of the true power of reinventing what you are doing (or as my mentor, systems thinking pioneer Russ Ackoff, preferred to say: "redesigning the system"), I believe he will drive the change in strategy necessary to enable Repower America to succeed.

A Brief History of the Reinventing Government Movement

Starting in the early 1990's, "Reinventing Government" was a huge movement. All across America, local governments were trying to "work smarter, not harder". The book "Reinventing Government" by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler catalyzed this movement, with the subtitle "How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector". I went to a presentation David Osborne gave to NYC government employees, since that's what I was back then. President Clinton created the federal government's version of this in March of 1993, by launching the National Partnership for Reinventing Government. You can read all about that here: A Brief History of Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Reinventing Repower America

For Repower America to succeed, it's leaders must realize that the forces allied against climate change legislation cannot be defeated head on. In such a battle, the lobbyists and the fear-based media echo chamber at their beck and call will always win. But who said this has to be a head to head contest? If the progressive movement learned anything from Barack Obama's defeat of Hillary Clinton, it should have learned the power of asymmetrical, innovative political warfare!

This is the lesson Repower America needs to learn. And the first part of that overall lesson needs to be a redefinition of Repower America from a "grassroots-driven campaign" to a "cultural transformation campaign"... one that uses any and all legitimate people and tools available to it.

Going Beyond Grassroots Activities

And what do I mean by "legitimate people and tools"? Well, people and tools that go beyond what grassroots people can do. I love what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr did for America as much as anyone. But the grassroots model of "people power" will not work when it comes to climate change. We need a permanently transformed relationship between all of America and Mother Nature. What Martin Luther King Jr accomplished - as great as it was - did not eliminate the hatred of certain people for certain other people here in America. Laws were passed. And many people's hearts and minds were changed. But - as has been proven by the success of the Republican's "Southern Strategy" since the days of Richard Nixon - the culture in America was not completely transformed. There is a lot of truth in the statement "you cannot legislate morality". But you can transform a culture through new information.

A cultural transformation is possible. But the people and tools Repower America uses will need to include those that made "An Inconvenient Truth" such a success.

That's right. Al Gore's organization will have to reach out to Al Gore's friends in Hollywood. Because we need a massive, entertainment-led national education effort if we are ever going to teach all of America not just what is at stake but what is possible on the other side of solving the climate change challenge.

The Strategic Tool Set Of Thinking Differently: Using Hope, Not Fear!

And this gets me to a hugely important "tool set" Repower America must use: the transformational management principles of the real Reinventing movement (otherwise known as the social systemic sciences, as developed by W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, Peter Drucker, and R. Buckminster Fuller) And, once again, I know that Al Gore has some familiarity with at least a portion of this body of knowledge. And that's because he wrote the critically important book "The Assault on Reason" in 2007. In that book, Al details how the historically reason and logic based environment in which all of America's policy making decisions are made is under assault. This is a book rich in history lessons we should all learn. But it also points to the need to focus on changing that environment, rather than continuing to inject pro-climate change legislation efforts into an environment that is increasingly uninterested in the factual truth of the reality in which we live.

How to change this environment? That answer goes back to my point about engaging Hollywood. But unlike how Hollywood's talents have recently been used - to increase awareness of how bad things really are so as to scare people into taking action to prevent tragic potential future consequences of our inaction - Hollywood must be used to increase awareness, instead, of how wonderfully beautiful things really can potentially be once we get to the other side of preventing the catastrophe from happening.

The "prevent climate change" movement desperately needs to transform itself into an "achieve global prosperity for all" movement. We must shift from being a movement driven by fear to a movement driven by hope. Because using fear puts us on the same playing field as our enemies.

They are also using fear to fight us. And their fear-based tactics are much more powerful than ours, because theirs are based largely on claiming that short-term fearful consequences will happen. We are disadvantaged by talking about longer-term fearful consequences that are harder to sell when the other side is saying, for example, that Repower America is going to make things worse "tomorrow" by causing good jobs to be lost.

But if we transform into a hopeful future based movement, we will be tapping into that core American belief in doing whatever it takes for however long it takes in order to build a more hopeful future for ourselves and our children.

Achieving Hope Based Change Has Happened Before And Can Happen Again

The example I offer is the Walt Disney - Wernher von Braun partnership of 1955, which taught the American people that space travel was no longer a fantasy. This purely hope and adventure-based public communication effort (involving four TV specials broadcast on The Wonderful World of Disney) sowed the seeds for the public's support of the creation of NASA, the creation of which enabled humanity to achieve one of the greatest scientific and cultural achievements in human history!

Humanity now desperately needs to achieve another scientific and cultural breakthrough. And even as there is talk of other countries taking the lead away from America when it comes to things like solar and wind generated power, it is possible - through a Reinvented (or Redesigned) Repower America - for America to take the lead in promoting "a world beyond the risk of climate change... a world of global prosperity for all based on nature-friendly principles".

And where Walt Disney worked with Wernher von Braun, Repower America could work with Amory Lovins, William McDonough, and other scientists who have figured out how the fantasy of a post-climate change world of nature-friendly prosperity can become our future reality.

Such a transformational agenda - focused on hope rather than fear and powered by the communications skills of Hollywood - is my answer to the three questions posed by Repower America's leadership team.

A redesigned / reinvented Repower America can give back to all of America the power our nation once had to make the impossible possible.

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